Medina hit-and-run alerts now law in Colorado

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DENVER -- It was a proud moment for Linda Limon Medina, but one still dominated by grief.

Medina, whose son was killed in a hit-and-run accident, shook and fought back tears as she stood with lawmakers and officials outside the Capitol Tuesday to watch Gov. John Hickenlooper sign a bill establishing a statewide hit-and-run alert system into law.

"It took a big loss in my family for myself to lose my baby for us to make this possible," Medina said. "You cannot take somebody's life and walk away. You cannot hurt people. Because it's not just that person you're hurting; you're hurting a whole bunch of other people."

The Medina Alert is named for Jose Medina, 21, who was working as a valet outside a nightclub just blocks from the Capitol when he was struck and killed in a hit and run back in January 2011.

It serves as a sort of Amber Alert notification system for hit-and-runs that involves quickly alerting the media and issuing bulletins on electronic highway signs that describe the fleeing vehicles.

"It allows us to push back against hit and run," Hickenlooper said. "And I think people feel that they get away with this, and as we do a better job of apprehending them, that will change."

When Medina was struck by a car, a Metro Taxi driver followed the vehicle, wrote down its license plate number and helped authorities locate the driver.

And since the program, created by former police officer Larry Stevenson, was implemented by Denver and Aurora, it's worked.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told reporters that the city has used the Medina Alert 17 times -- and that it's led to an arrest in 13 of those cases.

"I think that this is going to make a significant difference," said Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who said the alert system will serve another "tool" for law enforcement to solve hit-and-runs and a deterrent to make would-be hit-and-run drivers think twice about fleeing the scene.

"There are different reasons why people run. But what they don't understand is if they stay, they render aid, they could save somebody's life."

Stevenson, who also helped launch the "Taxis on Patrol" program with Metro Taxi, which trains drivers to notify law enforcement about suspicious activity, said that expanding the program could help reverse an uptick in hit-and-runs, which have become more common in Colorado over the past several years.

"We go from 5,000 transportation providers to four million residents in the state of Colorado who will get this alert," Stevenson said.

While Colorado's is the country's first hit-and-run alert system, other states are likely to follow, including Utah where Medina lives.

Hancock, who stood by Medina and consoled her throughout the press conference just before Hickenlooper signed the bill into law, thanked her for turning her son's tragic death into something positive and potentially life-saving.

"Today, Linda, I want you to know I believe Jose is smiling down on us and thanking us and the taxis on patrol for keeping eyes and ears open to help us find those who flee, and hopefully we'll all be safer because of it," Hancock said.

"Thank you for being here, for your courage."

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